Are Colleges Using Financial Aid As a "Bait and Switch" Tactic?


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college tuitionDalia Garcia breathed a sigh of relief when she got news that she’d been given enough financial aid to nearly cover the cost of tuition for her first year at California State Polytechnic University at Pomona.
Because her father earned less than $20,000 a year as a janitor, college would have been out of reach without the help. It meant “having a sense of security,” she recalled. And as a high school valedictorian with a high grade-point average, Garcia soon added several scholarships to her bounty, which — having grown up thrifty — she managed to stretch into her sophomore year.
Then the money stopped.

“I was shocked,” she said. “Especially being closer to graduating, I thought, ‘Why wouldn’t they want to help me?’ ”
Many parents exulting at the financial-aid offers their children have received from colleges this spring are in for a similar surprise, several experts say, citing federal data.
Like Garcia, they will eventually discover that the institutions often dangle more aid in front of prospective students who are still deciding where to go, and reduce the flow later.

“Bait–and-switch pricing.” That’s how Ben Miller, a senior policy analyst at the Washington think tank the New America Foundation, describes it. Mark Kantrowitz, senior vice president at Edvisors, an organization that researches and advises on financial aid, calls it “front-loading.”
The bottom line, said Kantrowitz, is that institutions offer more to first-year students and their parents as a kind of “leveraging; they’re using financial aid as a recruiting tool.” And once the student has been recruited, the financial aid declines.
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